Let me just start by saying I’m not a team sports kinda a girl. I mean, I played softball on a team my mum coached for years, played tee-ball some time before that, and volleyball in the winter. But then I moved to a town where girls don’t play sports at a time in Mum’s life when breathing was a monumental effort….
I like to run. I like cycling. I like swimming, writing, reading, and am perfectly happy with no company but my own for days at a time. Small talk is a challenge, for me. I find navigating many social conventions excessively complex. I mean, what the fuck is the point of air kissing? It makes me think of peacocks, for some reason. I think pressing one’s cheek to a dear friend’s is far more welcoming than launching pretend smooches on either side of her ears. But, then, of course, I don’t wear make-up so smears and transference tend not to be an issue for me. Is that what the point is, then?
Anyway, regardless of (or perhaps tangential to) my own psychoses, it’s important to me that my kids play team sports. Important enough that I’m willing to give up four nights a week and several weekends a season to get them where they need to go, sit on ridiculously uncomfortable bleachers, and cheer. I think teamwork and sportsmanship are essential skills for anyone to learn. I think first-hand experience of the value of group effort, and the opportunity to lead your team is so important for future managers, colleagues, physicists, administrators, neuroscientists, basketweavers, or whoever. It’s like working in retail, really. Everyone should have to work in retail at some point in their lives. It’s immunization against being that asshole customer.
And everyone, at some point, should have to play on a team.
My daughter played soccer for two years and hated it. But this baseball season started out really, really well. She was so excited! Until some kids on her team turned into pretty good ball players and Danica just. Didn’t. Hitting is hard. Catching is tricky. Standing out in the field waiting for something to happen is boring. Just as when soccer transitioned from running around picking dandelions to trying to score some goals, she lost interest. And being the worst player on your team is hard.
But she’s not allowed to quit. We’re going to practice ten minutes or so a day until the snow comes. Just like with reading and writing, French and math. We’re going to practice those things like hitting and catching and throwing and running, just a little bit at a time. We’re going to have three-man ball games out at the local diamond, and then kick the soccer ball around in the field just beside. Together. And before you scroll to the comments or open your email client, it is not because I need for her to be good at baseball. It’s because I think failure is valuable. She does a lot of things easily that are really difficult for kids her age, and I can already see her putting it together that she doesn’t have to try as hard to synthesize facts and eject data from her startling mind. Sometimes she doesn’t have to try, at all.
I feel like it’s my job to help her understand that failing at something is really just an opportunity to learn to do it better. I know it’s my job to help her figure out that success at something you’ve worked to achieve is better than ice cream, or store-bought granola bars, or flying to Peru in a house held aloft by helium balloons. It is always better when you earn it, kiddo.
And sometimes it’s even better than that, when you earn it together.